Tri-county near state unemployment rate

Economist: Virus’ next steps will determine economic recovery


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What happens now with the virus?

Currently, that seems to be the biggest question facing the U.S. economy on local, state and national levels, according to a Federal Reserve Bank regional economist for the Carolinas.

Laura Ullrich, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, discussed South Carolina's official April employment report from the U.S. Department of Labor and a glimpse at the economic outlook ahead on a Friday conference call.

An estimated total of 272,700 state residents lost jobs in April, and South Carolina's unemployment rate rose almost 9% to 12.1% amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

What's ahead?

"It is important to note that much of what happens from here truly depends on the virus itself," Ullrich said, "and what happens in terms of infection rates and things like that."

As states across the country have reopened restaurant dine-in services, hair salons, retail stores and other businesses, will there be a second spike now in COVID-19 cases?

As of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's Friday update, there have been 9,638 confirmed cases of the virus in the state and 419 deaths, including 245 cases and three deaths announced Friday.

The pandemic is "very different" from anything the modern U.S. economy has faced, Ullrich said.

The April report did reveal the best picture as of yet of what did happen in the state's shutdown last month.

Almost half of the jobs lost in the state, 46%, were in the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes restaurants and hotels. An additional 15% of job losses were in professional and business services, which includes employment agencies and business-support services, the employment report showed.

As University of South Carolina economist Joey Von Nessen forecasted to The Sumter Item on Thursday, Horry County - home of tourism-dependent Myrtle Beach - had the highest unemployment rate of all 46 counties in the state at 22.7% for the month. The next highest rate was 18.5% in Union County.

In the tri-county region, Sumter County's jobless rate for April was 11.1%. Clarendon was near Sumter with an 11.4% unemployment rate, and Lee County came in at 12%.

Human behavior is also a big question going forward, and many wonder just how comfortable consumers will be at shifting back to visiting local retailers as opposed to online purchases. Both Ullrich and Von Nessen said that is also critical.

Ullrich said she couldn't "guess" as of yet when a full recovery of jobs lost will be but said she doesn't expect it to be fast.